Word of the Day: Paradox


noun \ˈper-ə-ˌdäks, ˈpa-rə-\

: something (such as a situation) that is made up of two opposite things and that seems impossible but is actually true or possible

: someone who does two things that seem to be opposite to each other or who has qualities that are opposite

: a statement that seems to say two opposite things but that may be true

Full Definition of PARADOX

1:  a tenet contrary to received opinion

2a :  a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true

b :  a self-contradictory statement that at first seems true

 c :  an argument that apparently derives self-contradictory conclusions by valid deduction from acceptable premises
3:  one (as a person, situation, or action) having seemingly contradictory qualities or phases

Examples of PARADOX

  1. It is a paradox that computers need maintenance so often, since they are meant to save people time.
  2. As an actor, he’s a paradox—he loves being in the public eye but also deeply values and protects his privacy.
  3. a novel full of paradox
  4. For the actors, the goal was a paradox: real emotion, produced on cue. —Claudia Roth Pierpont, New Yorker, 27 Oct. 2008
  5. Again and again, he returns in his writing to the paradox of a woman who is superior to the men around her by virtue of social class though considered inferior to them on account of her gender. —Terry Eagleton, Harper’s, November 2007
  6. She was certainly far from understanding him completely; his meaning was not at all times obvious. It was hard to see what he meant for instance by speaking of his provincial side—which was exactly the side she would have taken him most to lack. Was it a harmless paradox, intended to puzzle her? or was it the last refinement of high culture? —Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady, 1881
  7. Mr. Guppy propounds for Mr. Smallweed’s consideration the paradox that the more you drink the thirstier you are and reclines his head upon the window-sill in a state of hopeless languor. —Charles Dickens, Bleak House, 1852-53

Origin of PARADOX

Latin paradoxum, from Greek paradoxon, from neuter of paradoxos contrary to expectation, from para- + dokein to think, seem — more at decent

First Known Use: 1540

Related to PARADOX

dichotomy, incongruity, contradiction

Definition of Paradox

The term Paradox is from the Greek word “paradoxon” that means contrary to expectations, existing belief or perceived opinion. It is a statement that appears to be self-contradictory or silly but may include a latent truth. It is also used to illustrate an opinion or statement contrary to accepted traditional ideas. A paradox is often used to make a reader think over an idea in innovative way.

Examples of Paradox

  • Your enemy’s friend is your enemy.
  • I am nobody.
  • “What a pity that youth must be wasted on the young.” – George Bernard Shaw
  • Wise fool
  • Truth is honey which is bitter.
  • “I can resist anything but temptation.” Oscar Wilde

From the above examples of paradox, we can say that paradox creates a humorous effect on the readers because of its ridiculousness.

Examples of Paradox in Literature

In literature, paradox is not just a clever or comical statement or use of words. Paradox has serious implication because it makes statements that often summarize the major themes of the work they are used in. Let us analyze some paradox examples from some famous literary works:

Example #1

In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, one part of the cardinal rule is the statement,

“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.

This statement seems to not make any sense. However, on closer examination, it gets clear that Orwell points out a political truth. The government in the novel claims that everyone is equal but it has never treated everyone equally. It is the concept of equality stated in this paradox that is opposite to the common belief of equality.

Example #2

In the famous play of Shakespeare, Hamlet, the protagonist Hamlet says,

“I must be cruel to be kind.”

This announcement does not seem to make sense. How can an individual treat others kindly even when he is cruel? However, Hamlet is talking about his mother, and how he intends to kill Claudius to avenge his father’s death. This act of Hamlet will be a tragedy for his mother who is married to Claudius. Hamlet does not want his mother to be the beloved of his father’s murderer any longer, and so he thinks that the murder will be good for his mother.

Example #3

From Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet”:

The earth that’s nature’s mother is her tomb;
What is her burying grave, that is Rainbow in her womb;

The contradictory ideas of the earth being the birthplace and a graveyard make these lines paradoxical.

Example #4

In his short lyric “My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold”, William Wordsworth remembers the joys of his past and says:

“Child is father of the man”

This statement has seemingly incorrect proposition but when we look deep into its meaning, we see the truth. The poet is saying that the childhood experiences become the basis for all adult occurrences. The childhood of a person shapes his life and consequently “fathers” or creates the grown-up adult. So, “Child is father of the man.”

Function of Paradox

The above reading may bring out the question, “Why is paradox used when a message can be conveyed in a straightforward and simple manner?” The answer lies in the nature and purpose of literature. One function of literature is to make the readers enjoy reading. Readers enjoy more when they extract the hidden meanings out of the writing rather than something presented to them in an uncomplicated manner. Thus, the chief purpose of a paradox is to give pleasure.

In poetry, the use of paradox is not confined to mere wit and pleasure; rather, it becomes an integral part of poetic diction. Poets usually make use of a paradox to create a remarkable thought or image out of words.

Some types of paradox in poetry are meant to communicate a tone of irony to its readers as well as lead their thoughts to the immediate subject. Paradox in most poems normally strives to create feelings of intrigue and interest in readers’ minds to make them think deeper and harder to enjoy the real message of the poem.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s